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Krakow's Christmas Market

There's no doubt that when it comes to Christmas, the Central Europeans have the upper hand. Of course, access to vast quantities of snow gives our Polish cousins something of an advantage here, but it's not just the white stuff that gives them the edge. Take a look at the architecture for example. Our fine Western cities may be grand and elegant, but Slavonic fantasy lends that crucial ingredient when it comes to Christmas - magic.

In this light, winter travelers will be pleased to hear that Krakow is already preparing for her Christmas events. As always, one of the key attractions will be the Christmas Market itself, which takes up the better part of the rynek, central market square).

The Market traditionally opens in the beginning of December and lasts even a little into January, though undoubtedly it's at its most festive in the week or so before Christmas.

Amongst the best-loved features of the market are the giant wooden barrels (you feel that Obelix would have enjoyed throwing these at red-faced Roman legionaries). Inside these intriguing objects you can buy yourself Grzaniec Galicyjski, adelicious mulled wine. With the temperatures decidedly chilly to say the least, you could hardly find a more congenial potion to ward off the cold. Stalls selling sausages and the distinctive fried oscypek cheese (a tasty highland variety that's well worth investigating) provide other inviting gastronomic distractions.

But enough about food and drink. As indeed, the main point is to be looking for presents for nearest and dearest (or at least that's everyone's excuse for consuming heinous quantities of mulled wine). Amongst the wooden stalls you'll find all kinds of trinkets, from woolen slippers from the Highlands to amber jewellery from the Baltic.

Another famous Krakovian Christmas tradition is Szopki, or Christmas Cribs. These are not actually cribs, but large iridescent constructions of card and colored foil. They look like something out of a fairy tale. Traditionally, the szopki are placed under the Mickiewicz statue on the morning of the first Thursday of December.